On a beautiful sunshiny day, walking back from a guitar class, I caught a glimpse of some thought-provoking and appropriately temporary graffiti: (see photo)
Given that I live my life with the assumption that everything means something, I stopped to take a picture and proceeded to think about this for the rest of my walk home.
Local, neighborhood establishments go out of business, snow melts, people die, friends move, babies are born, the sun rises, people get married, the moon wanes… the list continues and even it changes. And while everything around me changes, I am not unscathed. Things change and I am perpetually changed by those things. It’s hard to keep up with.
Impermanence either comes as a great relief or a great disappointment depending on your lot in life at any given point. To the person who wins a multi-million dollar lottery, thinking about the impermanence of it all is devastating. (“What do you mean I have to pay taxes on it?!”) But to the person who just lost their job, the knowledge that this way of being is not forever is exactly what they need to get out of bed in the morning. Regardless of whether the glass is half empty or full, even it is not forever. Someone eventually will dump its contents and load it in the dishwasher. Nothing is permanent.
Well, except maybe one thing.
Perhaps this makes me an idealist and completely impossible to relate to or to understand and maybe you’ll hate me for my endless silver linings and happy endings, but I believe in the permanence of Love. I’m not talking about the butterflies you feel at the onset of unexpected, yet welcome attention from someone of interest; those, as we all know, are of the utmost impermanence. Nor am I talking about the love of ice cream, pizza, Trader Joe’s Dark Chocolate with toffee, walnuts and pecans, because so quickly food can turn on us – literally go bad, add poundage or in excess, make us physically ill (we’ve all been there, it’s okay).
I love the English language in all its complexity, but one area where it fails us is Love. Only one word? Really?! A mother’s love for her child, a man’s love of chili dogs, a child’s love of their very first best friend, an academic’s love of knowledge, an athlete’s love for the game – these relationships, these connections are distinctly unique, and yet, we have just the one word.
There is a Love in this world that is beyond words. For some of us.
Steinbeck described it to his son in a letter, it is “an outpouring of everything good in you – of kindness and consideration and respect – not only the social respect of manners but the greater respect which is recognition of another person as unique and valuable… [it] can release in you strength, courage and goodness and even wisdom you didn’t know you had.” (From Steinbeck: A Life in Letters edited by Elaine Steinbeck and Robert Wallsten). I want that… wisdom that I didn’t know I had. Then C.S. Lewis says, “Love is not affectionate feeling, but a steady wish for the loved person’s ultimate good as far as it can be obtained.” (From his Answers to Questions on Christianity). A steady wish for my ultimate good? Yes, please.
Finally Archbishop Desmond Tutu has a lot of profound thoughts on the matter. Though he didn’t directly name Love here, he says, “We were made to enjoy music, to enjoy beautiful sunsets, to enjoy looking at the billows of the sea and to be thrilled with a rose that is bedecked with dew… Human beings are actually created for the transcendent, for the sublime, for the beautiful, for the truthful… and all of us are given the task of trying to make this world a little more hospitable to these beautiful things.” I mean, Love is implied, right?
This Love makes it easy for a simply good and true song written by a complete stranger to become a part of who I am. This Love makes me forgive, even though I want so badly to stay mad (y’know… to teach ‘em a lesson). This Love forces me to foolishly disregard practicalities and follow it into a field that promises financial instability (Social Work). This Love carries me through despair and grief; because of it I know human connection is possible. This Love fills me up at the sight of random and simple acts of kindness between humans. This Love is beyond my understanding, is stronger than I am and has been and will be breathtakingly permanent.